The forest land is being levelled now for construction while a part of it has already been converted into a casting yard by Ghaziabad Development Authority. You can never tell that the vast expanse of land adjoining Hindon barrage, which looks like a construction site, is listed as a bird sanctuary in Ghaziabad’s revenue records. Few birds, except pigeons and crows, are seen around this place where a blackened Hindon flows.
If you go by Ghaziabad resident Sushil Raghav’s petition in National Green Tribunal, the 14-acre land spanning nine khasra numbers is actually a bird sanctuary under the Uttar Pradesh forest department.
Other bird habitats in NCR are also deteriorating. Birders and wildlife enthusiasts in NCR have just bidden adieu to the Okhla bird sanctuary after the environment ministry’s latest eco-sensitive zone notification declared only a 100m long buffer zone for a significant stretch to accommodate more than 55,000 homes coming up close to the park.
Despite the obvious impact of river pollution and real estate, no steps were taken to rectify the situation, either for Hindon or for Okhla. Birders say wetlands like Surajpur and Basai in Gurgaon are also endangered.
With the sanctuary allegedly being leased out to realtors by government authorities, 25-year-old Raghav has placed several documents before the National Green Tribunal to prove it’s forest land. The lapse involves various agencies including Uttar Pradesh Housing and Development Board.
“It is still very much a bird sanctuary. But land disputes began in 1994 and haven’t been resolved yet. We are trying to protect it,” claimed a forest official. Joga Singh, divisional forest officer, claimed the irrigation department has leased out the Hindon sanctuary land to some companies. The department has no answers to why encroachments were not stopped earlier.
Not only encroachments, the Hindon and the wetlands around it are also “ecologically dead”, leaving no habitat for birds or fish. Shib Nath, a construction labourer who came to fish at the barrage on Thursday, has seen the bird sanctuary in its happier times.
“There was a huge pond there about six years ago and lots of birds. They buried the wetland with soil. Hindon, too, had a variety of fish like rohu and katla. Now we get only singhi, shaoli and magur if we are very lucky because the black sewer and industrial water mixes with the river. If there are no fish, there will be no birds.” Anand Arya, a birder who got to know about the Hindon bird park recently, came exploring and found that birds had already deserted the place.
Birders, meanwhile, are striking out wetlands everyday from their list. “The raptors had already started disappearing in Okhla, they probably stopped coming because high tension wires would obstruct flight. Siberian cranes also stopped coming. I don’t see how the park will continue to exist now. They might as well close it,” said Arya.
Asad R Rahmani, senior scientific adviser to Bombay Natural History Society, has a different view, though. “The sanctuary is right in the middle of human habitation. I would say that it is a good thing that the government has reduced the eco-sensitive zone to 100m, giving relief to homeowners. However, it’s a half-step. Okhla sanctuary needs clean water for fish and birds to thrive. Many species may not survive the urban pressure but some will. Okhla sanctuary should be protected like, say, Central Park in New York.”
C R Babu, professor emeritus, Delhi University, says that noise from habitation will have an impact on birds. If tall buildings fall in their migratory route, even navigation may be impacted, but perhaps these concerns should have been addressed long ago by the planning authorities.